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Gear Theory

A Few Words In Praise of Humble 50mm Lens – By Andy Larner

June 28, 2020

It’s the one that comes with the camera, it’s the ‘nifty fifty’ and the bog standard prime lense everyone has included in the pack that’s so quickly forgotten and replaced by fancier and more exotic focal lengths.

I had a little bit of a revelation recently. It had been so long since I had taken my 50mm (equivalent) lens off my Fuji XT1 that it took me a couple of seconds to remember how to remove it. I had been shooting on the 50 for an unknown amount of time, my 28mm hadn’t even left my kit bag (my Nikon FM was the same). The reason it’s such a common lense dawned on me. It’s a truly great focal length.

I’d known for years 50’s are great for portraits but on balance what I hadn’t realised was how good 50mm is at landscapes as well.

50mm landscape

XT1, 50mm – Lightroom Edit

I think it can give landscapes more focus, shooting 50mm can really make you think about landscapes differently. I like a good wide but somehow the 50 gives them a bit more punch.

I used 35mm a lot before on my X100T but 35mm really struggles with close-ups of people it warps the face, just a little too much.

XT1, 50mm – Lightroom Edit

My Nikon FM was my reintroduction to the 50mm, when I bought my XT1 I even based by lense choice on what I have for the FM. You can go from big landscapes to inside and close-up easily, it’s so versatile. Usually as well 50mm is a prime so you can get a nice wide aperture range too so you can go from bright to dark. Have some really nice shallow depth of field and make things look really professional (on a low budget).

Nikon FM, Super XP2 – Styal Mill

You can take some nice close-ups. Then go to the pub and keep shooting in low light.

Nikon, 50mm/XP2 Super

Which if you’ve read anything by me before you’ll know is important.

XT1, 50mm – Lightroom Edit

What I’m really trying to get at with this article is don’t write off the 50mm (or equivalent) because it’s so often one of the first lenses you get, you really don’t need that fancy new super wide or zoom lense 50mm does everything you need and maybe more (you can always walk further away or closer). I’m ashamed to say it’s just taken me all this time to really appreciate it!

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    pierrealx
    June 28, 2020 at 10:16 am

    Totally agree with you, great article.

    I’m rediscovering the 50mm focal length as well after buying a Nikkor 50mm AI-s Mk II pancake for my Nikon FM3a. its such a breeze to shoot with.

    • Reply
      Andy Larner
      June 28, 2020 at 11:17 am

      That sounds like an amazing combo, this article was supposed to be a little bit of an antidote for GAS but after reading that I’m wanting more!

  • Reply
    Floyd
    June 28, 2020 at 10:36 am

    Beautiful photographs, Andy, particularly the tree and stairway. I agree with you about the importance and usefulness of the 50mm focal length. I’m wondering if the lens you used was a 50mm, which I believe on your XT1 should be an equivalent of 76.5mm, or did you have a 35mm mounted for an equivalent of a 52.5mm lens? Regardless, whichever it is it is clearly a “sweet spot” lens for you!

    • Reply
      Andy Larner
      June 28, 2020 at 11:16 am

      Hi, yes I’ve got the 35mm which is equivalent to 51mm. Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    allan Ritchie
    June 28, 2020 at 10:39 am

    ive read so many reports about old lenses but it seems the teleconverter never gets mentioned how do these rate?

    • Reply
      Andy Larner
      June 28, 2020 at 11:19 am

      Unfortunately I’ve never used a Tele Converter on anything (I don’t think) so I don’t know!
      Someone else maybe able to help you out!

    • Reply
      Brian Sweeney
      June 28, 2020 at 8:38 pm

      Some lenses have teleconverters that are matched to specific groups of lenses, usually to a telephoto. They tend to be good. Others, such as a Nikon TC1.4 are good, but not cheap. The common third-party 2x teleconverter tends to be poor compared with getting a longer focal length lens. For Nikon- a 105/2.5 or a series E 100/2.8 is the better way to go.

      Beautiful images with the 50/1.8. With the crop factor, closer to a 75 field of view on a Nikon.The 50 is small, fast, and inexpensive. So many to choose from, and good prices. For mirrorless users- many bargains out there. The Konica 50/1.7 is so good, I made one into M-Mount for my Leica M8.

  • Reply
    Daniel Sigg
    June 28, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    Andy, Fun article with great photographs showing the range of how versatile 50mm’s are. I also agree how 50mm works great for more “focused” landscapes as you demonstrated with your mountain and tree images. Cheers, Daniel

    • Reply
      Andy Larner
      June 28, 2020 at 8:40 pm

      Thank you Daniel! I really appreciate that!

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    June 28, 2020 at 11:01 pm

    Hi Andy,
    Thanks for the article. A couple of years ago I bought the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 pancake lens for me FE2. A nice, compact kit.
    Funny thing though, the 50mm on my Leica M4-P seems restrictive; I switched back to a 35mm lens. I suppose I could have the M4-P converted to a .85 viewfinder and then the 50 would seem more natural, but the cost is very high.

    Here’s another thought: many people engage in ‘street photography’ and work with wider angle lenses. AS we continue to exist under the covid pandemic, will we ever see a return to the up close street style with these lenses? I think more will migrate toward the 50mm lens so they maintain a safe distance from their subject.

  • Reply
    Ernie
    June 29, 2020 at 1:23 am

    Nice article. I frequently use the Nikon 50mm Series E on my Nikon D1 and get great shots. One of my favorites!

  • Reply
    Chris
    June 29, 2020 at 5:57 am

    I fully agree. The 50mm is often called “boring” but I think it just feels right. Photos with it are just about the subjekt and not about the effect that the lens gives like with many wideangle photos. The 50mm is not a spectacular lens but it simply works for so many things.

  • Reply
    brian nicholls
    June 29, 2020 at 7:21 am

    Great images Andy. The 50mm is still ‘king’ amongst focal lengths. I’ve shot quite a few weddings from late sixties to mid seventies using mainly the ‘fifty’ with an occasional 135 for a few candids. Lots of happy customers.

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